Sheffield toddlers learning in settings that need improvement - report

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Almost a quarter of Sheffield toddlers have their free early years’ education in a setting which should needs improvement, a report out today has found.

The Family and Childcare Trust found that 23 per cent of three and four-year-olds were learning in nurseries, schools or centres that Ofsted had found to be inadequate or which needed improving.

Only just over half of the free childcare places available to two-year-olds in a Government proposal have been taken up, lower than the regional and national averages.

And the report also found that nurseries, childminders and other school places tended to be more expensive than the average regional costs by around ten or 15 per cent and holiday childcare was similar.

In Yorkshire the average price for a part-time nursery place for a child aged under two was £96.47 per week, after school clubs cost £42.84 a week and childminders £3.60 an hour.

The survey took account of paid-for childcare only, not the Government’s investment into free childcare or subsidies.

It said ‘quality of early education provision is an issue in this local authority’ and the council ‘needs to ensure more children can benefit from free early years education provision in high quality settings.’

Nationally, the trust said the cost of childcare had risen by 33 per cent since the last election and on average cost £6,000 a year for children aged under two.

It is now calling for ‘radical reform’ to the country’s childcare system and asking all political parties to commit to an independent review of childcare.

South East Sheffield MP Clive Betts has backed a Labour proposal for free childcare for three and four olds, whose parents are in work for 35 hours, to be extended to tackle the soaring costs of childcare.

He said: “There are many parents in Sheffield who find it hard to justify returning to work financially or, if they do, will find little left in their pay packets.

“High childcare costs cut their incomes, increase the risk of child poverty, grow the gender pay gap and on a national level raise welfare bills and cuts tax incomes.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg praised the work of Barnsley and Rotherham authorities for helping families access free childcare places.

Those two authorities have an average 78 per cent take up rate of free childcare places for two-year-olds who are eligible for the 15 hours a week of care.

Mr Clegg urged all parents in the region to check if they were eligible as 11,900 places are still available across the region.

He is due to give a speech today on the report when he will say: “As today’s Family and Childcare Trust Survey confirms, with demand increasing, the cost of childcare is rising.”

He is expected to speak about how the Liberal Democrats would increase the amount of free childcare for two-year-olds and toddlers.

Jayne Ludlam, executive director of children, young people and families at Sheffield Council, said: “Providing children with the best possible start in life is a corporate priority in Sheffield. We have recently launched our “Best Start” Strategy which sets out how we will provide effective early help to children and their families through co-ordinated multi-agency services.

“Sheffield has one of the largest cohorts of eligible two-year-olds in the country and in less than two years we have provided enough places for more than 2,000 children.

“More parents of two, three and four-year-olds are taking up the offer of 15 hours of free early learning than ever before and we are on course to make sure there is a place available for every two-year-old in the city who wishes to access a place by this summer.

“We have raised awareness about how parents can access this provision in doctors’ surgeries, libraries, children’s centres, via letters and social media. This has led to an increase in take-up”